Category: Humpback Whales

Lightness of Being

Lightness of Being

Usually I share my own photographs and video as part of my work, my gift to the world. Lately I haven’t felt the words form, haven’t felt inspired to create. It’s been very heavy, bottom to top.

So today I found this video of a humpback calf playing with dolphins and it seemed to tell the story that I don’t feel inspired to tell now, but hope to soon.

I hope you enjoy the lightness of being. May the light of this calf and her friends shower all with beauty and peace….and hope.

Piano…A Whale of a Story

Piano…A Whale of a Story

Sometimes the story behind the scars is bigger than the whale, larger than life. Such is Piano’s life story.

Piano crossed my path this year while I was visiting the Silver Bank for an offshore humpback whale week. She was eight years old. When I photographed her frolicking with other humpbacks she appeared happy, like the other whales swimming within the protected area. There was one exception….Piano had severe scars along her back. Looking at them through the viewfinder of my camera and telephoto lens I winced, “How could she survive whatever caused THAT!

And the scars were not ‘only’ on her back. It appeared as if she had an entanglement scar on her fluke. It was difficult figuring out her story.

I captured several images including a fluke ID photo. Upon return I emailed the Center for Coastal Studies, sending the images along with the time and date observations were obtained.

Almost immediately I received a reply from Jooke Robbins, PhD, director of the Humpback Whale Studies Program giving a brief history of the whale and stating she was well known by the staff there. I did further digging and found out more information about this beautiful angel of the sea.

Piano was born in 2009. In 2011 she suffered a severe injury through a ship strike. Specifically the propeller sliced her back…or appeared to chew it. In July of 2012 she was severely entangled in fishing gear. When she was freed from that entanglement by the team, scars were noted from an even earlier, unwitnessed entanglement.  On a lighter note, she was the poster girl for Wild Chatham in 2010.

Whales that live in the Gulf of Maine and surrounding area have a much better chance of survival thanks to The Center for Coastal Studies.  Not only do they study whales, they have an amazing disentanglement team. Check out the short video below.




Piano touched me deeply. She fully embodies the energy of persistence and has survived even when faced with serious consequences of simply being a humpback whale in a world where human activity is increasingly dangerous.

Piano and her friend frolicking on the Silver Bank.

Join me in saying a little prayer for Piano, sending her love and include all whales in that prayer. And while you’re at it, say one for the humans, too. We need to awaken.

I offer an invitation to visit the Center for Coastal Studies web page to learn about their amazing work with many marine species. Join me in supporting them as a member. Visit their cool on-line store to purchase whale merch.

The summary of my week? More than ever I believe these whales to be highly aware, sentient beings with amazing intelligence and an important role to play in this Ocean planet’s story. I contend they are Angels of the Sea.

To read other stories about humpback whales check out the previous stories from this week on the Silver Bank.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

The Video

Special thanks to Tom Conlin and Aquatic Adventures and the crew of the Turks & Caicos Explorer II.

Reflections on Whales–Going Home

Reflections on Whales–Going Home

Thursday–High wind, rough water. Grounded…on the mothership. The whales have not been as numerous this week as in weeks past. Even with fewer whales sighted, those that chose to interact really gave us the best of humpback whale curiosity, engagement and presence.

Each whale-loving human spent the day in various states of waiting….for the weather to improve, for whales to find us again, to have one last opportunity to commune with Angels of the Sea. But it never happened.

Friday–The 90 mile journey from the Silver Bank to Ocean World Marina on the north side of the Dominican Republic began a bit past sunrise…as soon as the captain could safely navigate through the coral heads into open ocean.

I didn’t feel the sadness I usually feel when leaving the Silver Bank. That’s a relief as the two previous years the re-entry from whale bliss to everyday life has been challenging. For some reason, it feels okay to be headed inland. Perhaps I finally understand the connection never goes away…it’s always inside, always present, no matter where I find myself.

Roadside market…closed for the afternoon.

SaturdayWritten at the airport:

The 90 minute drive from Puerto Plata to Santiago winds through mountains. I am struck with the utter poverty that SO many people live in. All along the highway are concrete shelters…I can’t call them homes. But they are to those who live there. Many have steel bars on the windows and doors. That struck me as odd.

We passed a girl, probably about ten years in age, standing beside the road dressed up in very modern clothes performing to an imaginary audience. Waiting for someone to discover her genius, her beauty….her talent. Her stage presence reminded me of American Idol.

So many cultures attempt to copy the USA–The American Dream.

But there is a dark side I wish I could share with them. Our beloved country is regressing daily. Greed is now exposed as the driving force behind all policy and governing. So much for freedom…of religion, of the Press, of assembly. The very values that made our country such a unique and beautifully evolving democratic Republic are hourly being tossed in the toilet.

Sweet friends who think the USA is setting the example for prosperity and success….we are currently destroying laws that protected our precious resources of water, clean air…desecrating sacred lands and places. We now mirror back to the world the absolute truth of what happens when greed and the love of money dictate policy and politics.

Dear friends from the many beautiful and wonderful countries of this Ocean Planet, please do not long to be like us for we are uprooting a deep, darkness that threatens everything our ancestors worked so diligently to create.

Work in your homes, your native lands, to deepen your values and desire for a better life by cultivating fairness and compassion in your hearts and minds. Care for all life. Strive to acknowledge and build on the beauty in your backyard…in your hearts and minds…in your communities. And please, every morning, say a little prayer for us. I’ll do the same for you.


As I was writing at the airport the guy sitting behind me at the gate started playing Imagine by John Lennon on his phone. Tears streamed down my face as I turned and thanked him. He was embarrassed because he didn’t intend to play it out loud…sometimes Great Spirit, the Universe, God….whatever you call It…orchestrates little reminders.

Lyrics to Imagine by John Lennon

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

The trip was a good one as evidenced by the salt stains on my cap. If you are interested in whales I invite you to visit the Center for Coastal Studies website. Read about a whale I photographed that is recovering from propeller wounds in the Epilogue of this series….in the next post. Piano is followed by the scientists there. And….if you want cool whale merch, check out their site. They do amazing work!!!




Reflections on Whales–Part IV

Reflections on Whales–Part IV

Buddy & Willie Fay Meet a Baby Whale

February 22

Sunrise was spectacular. There were brilliant, fat, vermillion streaks in the eastern sky then that color transferred to small, thin clouds surrounding the moon’s silver sliver. The crescent was surrounded by an amazing brilliant orange whisper of color. Then the illumination of sunrise lit up a cauldron of puffy clouds in an orange, peach, pink, gray mixture of colors and eventually the western sky was alive with color as the east faded to a pale yellow canopy.

I forgot to write about the three whales playing around the mothership late yesterday afternoon. Two members of the crew were scuba diving to check the mooring line and the captain was using the bow thrusters to keep the ship stable. We think perhaps the whales were drawn to the vibration of the thrusters. The provided quite a show of spy-hopping and playing around the divers. After the mooring was secured again, the captain got his drone out and the female whale was very interested in it. She spy-hopped and then pushed up toward the drone as it hovered over her.

Observing the curiosity and interest in human activities by the whales was quite amazing. Because the female spy-hopped so much within ten feet or less of the bow, I was able to capture very detailed photographs of the head with my telephoto lens. In particular the tubercles stood out.

Humpback whale fact: They have between 30 and 60 tubercles around the jaw and within each tubercle is a hair. Thick nerve cells surround the hair and scientists have puzzled over the function. Possibilities include: measure subtle vibrations, track movement of water and prey, measure electromagnetic fields, measure temperature and salinity and aid in their super-agile leaps and spins. These hairy bumps have even inspired wind turbine, airplane wing and propeller designs.

Being so close to curious, intelligent beings that are 45 feet long still makes me smile as I review my journal from two weeks ago. Oh….and then there was the rest of the day.


I was waiting for one of these whale days. Perhaps the previous afternoon’s encounter was the prelude.

It began with a group of whales. It wasn’t the full-blown pushing and shoving matches I’ve seen, when the males are intently pursuing a female and putting up a good fight for her affection. This was more like relaxed play. After following the four whales and observing from the small boat we received a radio transmission that whales were back at the mothership.

The crew identified the female as the same one that was so inquisitive with the divers and drone. She was even more curious with very close approaches to the motors (not in gear/props off) of the tenders, the stern of the mothership and even us, as we observed. The male patrolled the perimeter and she swam among our groups, nosed the tenders, spy-hopped and generally provided the most incredible display of beauty and trust.

I cropped this image to show her eye

Eye-to-eye contact with cetaceans is always special but there is a profound depth of presence when a humpback offers a glimpse into her mind via her baseball-sized eye.

Finally the male lured his gal from her inquisitive play to rest. As she settled below us to rest, the male continued to patrol. Sometimes he swam below her as she hovered motionless and other times he swam over her back. There was no mistaking (at least to me) they were lovers. And finally they swam off together and disappeared into the blue.


There is nothing else to say.


Reflections on Whales–Part III

Reflections on Whales–Part III

February 21

Rough, gray sky, chilly day. Yoga under the stars was challenging with the boat rocking so much. The whales were out frolicking elsewhere for the most part. Not many were seen in our little corner of the Silver Bank.

But late in the day, after almost eight hours on the water in the small boat, a mother and calf gifted us with a very short but incredibly SWEET encounter. I entered the water and swam up to the guide. The viz wasn’t good but mom was horizontal and baby hanging tail-down/nose-up in the water column. Two fish were playing at the baby’s nose.

(For video…click the file)

Slowly, ever-so-slowly, the calf began to rise up. She swam toward me (although Karen might say she swam toward her) and made eye contact. WHEW! That’s the candy!

I glanced down as baby breathed at the surface and mom was rising up beneath us. She also made eye contact with her magnificent, huge eye and watched each of us floating in complete and total awe. Her pectoral fin passed within a few feet of us as she turned.

One encounter like that can make eight hours of rough water and cold-endurance worth it. SO WORTH IT!